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Kings aim for second trip to Cup Final in 24 months

by Brian Hedger


(Los Angeles leads best-of-7 series 3-1)


Big story: The Chicago Blackhawks are facing an exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, down 3-1 in a best-of-7 series for the second straight postseason.

A year ago, they clawed their way back to beat the Detroit Red Wings in overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals on their way to winning the Stanley Cup. This time, it's the Los Angeles Kings who have won three straight to put the defending Cup champions on the brink of elimination.

Since the end of the second period in Game 2 in Chicago, a 6-2 Los Angeles victory, the Kings have outplayed the Blackhawks by a decisive margin. They have a chance to end Chicago's reign in Game 5 at United Center, just as the Blackhawks did to the Kings a year ago.

"I think we're a little healthier [this year], besides [defenseman Robyn Regehr] being out," Kings center Mike Richards said. "Guys were a little bit beat up last year. Other than that, not much [is different]. I think we're getting some bounces and capitalizing on our power plays, which is big when you create momentum."

Team Scope:

Kings: Los Angeles is known for its defensive prowess, but the Kings are filling up the stat sheet offensively.

Forward Marian Gaborik leads the NHL with 10 goals, center Anze Kopitar is tops with 17 assists and 22 points, and Los Angeles has four of the top scorers left in the playoffs: Kopitar, Jeff Carter (eight goals, 12 assists), Gaborik (10 goals, six assists) and Justin Williams (six goals, nine assists). The Kings also have the highest-scoring rookies, Tyler Toffoli (six goals, five assists) and Tanner Pearson (three goals, eight assists), plus defenseman Drew Doughty (three goals, 11 assists) battling P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens for most points by a defenseman.

"If [Kopitar] played in the Eastern Conference on a team that didn't stress defense as much as us, he could easily be a 100-point guy," Richards said. "He sacrifices that to be a two-way player and play on both sides of the puck. We see it every day so we kind of get spoiled, but I think a couple years ago, when we won the Cup, I think it was kind of his coming-out party, and I think now everyone kind of realizes how good he is."

Blackhawks: Chicago is again in a postseason bind. That's the bad news. The good news is the Blackhawks have found ways in the past to wriggle out of tough spots, including against Detroit last year then falling down 2-0 against the St. Louis Blues in the first round this year.

They also fell behind 3-0 against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2011 playoffs before charging back to force Game 7 in Vancouver, which they lost in overtime. The past three games, Chicago hasn't looked like a team that can pull off another stunning comeback, but the Blackhawks thrive in the underdog role.

"I don't think we're trying to be so cool about it," defenseman Brent Seabrook said Tuesday. "We don't want to be down 3-1 in a series, ever, and we came back from it last year and it was great for our team once we started rolling. So we're going to be a desperate hockey team [Wednesday] night. We've got to come out, we've got to lay everything on the line or else our season's over. I think we understand that."

Who's hot: Kopitar had two assists in Game 4 for the Kings and is arguably the best two-way forward in the postseason to date. He has at least one point in 15 of 18 games. … Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad scored his second goal of the series in Game 4.

Injury report: Regehr (knee) was injured in Game 1 of the second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. He hasn't resumed skating. ... The Blackhawks report no injuries.

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